Transformation of work is the most pressing issue ushered in by the age of AI, writes Claudia Harris OBE

7 November 2023, 07:49 | Updated: 7 November 2023, 07:50

Transformation of work is most pressing issue ushered in by the age of AI, writes Claudia Harris OBE
Transformation of work is most pressing issue ushered in by the age of AI, writes Claudia Harris OBE. Picture: LBC/Alamy
Claudia Harris OBE

By Claudia Harris OBE

  • Claudia is the CEO of Makers, an innovative tech training provider with an AI focus

In planning last week’s AI safety summit, the scope of the agenda was apparently - and not surprisingly - a fraught topic. The big question was whether it should just focus on loss of control and misuse risks (ie existential risks to humanity) or extend to deal with the more immediate challenges to employment.

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The decision just to focus on the existential is understandable. But it has elicited wry commentary. Stef Van Grieken, CEO of generative AI firm Cradle, for example, has commented, "It's like the fire brigade conference where they talk about dealing with a meteor strike that obliterates the country.

We should be concentrating on the real fires that are literally present threats."

And indeed, the advent of LLMs has introduced some of the greatest challenges and opportunities ever seen for one simple thing: work.

Every single person in Britain today will need to go through a monumental transformation in how they approach work - and quickly - in this new normal. That’s a workforce transformation for 30 million adults needed in the next couple of years.

First, these new tools will transform the way we produce work. In the same way writing fast no longer mattered in the typewriter age, everyone will now need to use LLMs to produce the same outputs faster and better.

Recent research by the management consulting firm BCG and Harvard found that consultants using LLMs produced 12% more tasks, 25% quicker and 40% better.

With these stats, those using old techniques will quickly find their approach defunct. People need to prompt and refine. We will all need to reskill within our own industries. Expertise and old ways of doing things could be a hindrance.

Secondly, new industries will rise in this new LLM age. We will move into an AI-first economy - much as we now live in an internet-first economy. It won’t be as simple as AI eliminating jobs.

When Excel disrupted accounting, expectations increased for the profession and job numbers went up. The same will likely be true of software engineering.

But there will definitely be a shake-up in the economy and some industries will be more dominant than others. Many of us will need to change career.

A recent poll by YouGov found that nearly 50% of voters believe their jobs are at risk from AI. ONS research from the last few months showed twice as many people perceive risk as benefit with AI.

It seems likely that these immediate labour risks are high in people’s minds.

Rishi Sunak and Elon Musk explored the possibility that work would end altogether during their fireside chat at the end of the summit.

But there are many impacts on our work that are more certain and more immediate than any of that. And Britain’s workers need immediate help from government to go through the huge transformation now required.

Perhaps this is where government focus is most needed right now.